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September 19, 2005

San Cristobal de las Casas

Follow-up to The Mexican Fiesta from The Midnight Heart

If you can measure the hardship of a place by the amount of beggars on its streets, San Cristobal must suffer a great deal. I have come here to use the library at Na Bolom, the best in the world for books about Mexico's indigenous peoples and cultures. I stopped here previously for a short while in 2004 and found the place enchanting. With the context of novels such as The Book of Lamentations , the place seems overshadowed somehow. The indigenous people were not allowed to walk on the pavements here in the old days and the place still seems cut off from the reforms that have changed the rest of Mexico.

San Cristobal is also the heartland of the Zapatistas, the guerillas who have been fighting for the independence of Chiapas and who have influenced serious change in attitudes to the indigenous peoples and peasants hereabouts.

September 17, 2005

The Mexican Fiesta

Follow-up to Mexican Independence Day from The Midnight Heart

Mexican Independence Night passed without anyone being pelted with eggs. Octavio Paz provides a clear description of the event in Labyrinth of Solitude .

Each year on the fifteenth of September, at eleven o’ clock at night, we celebrate the fiesta of the Grito in all the plazas in the Republic, and the excited crowds actually shout for a whole hour (47).

The Grito referred to is of course the Grito Dolores, an impassioned appeal made by the renegade priest Hidalgo on the eve of a revoltionary movement in Mexico.

Paz goes on to add that in spite of the noise and colour of the fiesta, the Mexicans will ‘remain silent for the rest of the year’ (47). Paz argues that the Mexican is trapped in his own labyrinth of solitude and such fiestas are explosive efforts to emerge from silence.

I have a few bones to pick with Paz’ account. I think that The Labyrinth of Solitude is fundamentally an account of men’s silence and difficulty in becoming reconciled with their own identities. Women are passive matter, as Paz points out. There may be some interesting parallels to be drawn here between the solitude and silence in The Labyrinth of Solitude and that of Welsh male poets. I have currently been formalising a theory concerning Welsh male poetry and its introspective nature and this may be useful here.

In any case, Paz’s theory concerning the Mexican fiesta is fascinating:

All of our anxious tensions express themselves in a phrase we use when anger, joy or enthusiasm cause us to exalt our constitution as Mexicans: ” _ ¡Viva Mexico, hijos de la chingada!_ ” This phrase is a battle cry, charged with a peculiar electricity; it is a challenge and an affirmation, a shot fired against an imaginary enemy, and an explosion in the air. Once again with a certain pathetic and plastic fatality, we are presented with the image of a sky rocket that climbs into the sky, bursts in a shower of sparks and then falls into darkness. Or with the image of that howl that ends all our songs and possesses the same ambiguous resonance: an angry joy, a destructive affirmation ripping open the breast and consuming itself. // When we shout this cry on the fifteenth of September, the anniversary of our independence, we affirm ourselves in front of, against and in spite of “others”.

September 14, 2005


Follow-up to Mexican Independence Day from The Midnight Heart

Eustorgio, our guide in the Sierra Norte, was a cheerful man and extremely patient. When we reached a crossroads between the hard and easy routes, he advised us to take the easy route. Instead we chose the difficult and although he shook his head, Eustorgio led us upwards and helped us in places where we needed to climb. We complained of tiredness and he simply told us that the long walk back would be three hours at least.

Eustorgio showed me the flowers and plants of the mountains. Rosa de la Montagna – a kind of thistle. Mushrooms that were good to eat. Plants to cure eye infections. Herbs that would cure certain illnesses.

Eustorgio had two daughters but never mentioned a wife. He was raising a fish farm on a piece of land on the mountains. He showed us the fishfarm on our long walk back. Without telling us that the land was his, he disappeared inside the cabin and walked over to the pools a pregant dog on his heels.
-Is this your cabin? I asked.
-Yes, he replied.
-Itīs pretty, I said.
He was scattering food on the waters so the surface became a tumult of fish.
-Do you eat all these fish? I asked.
-Yes, he replied.
I must have looked startled because he began to explain that the fish would be his food in winter.

Eustorgio led us all the way back to the town. Once there he left us at the comedor to eat chicken and chilli stew. When we had eaten he led us back to teh cabins and built a fire. He painfully wrote down an e-mail address and said that he would not be there in the morning. He was driving to the city. He sat in silence for a few moments as if unwilling to leave.

September 12, 2005

Mexican Independence Day

Follow-up to The Reason for Being in Mexico from The Midnight Heart

Part of my reason for being in Mexico is that I wanted to research into Mexican fiestas or festivals. Oaxaca is a very important city for the Mexican Day of the Dead which I have been researching, but this week it is also Mexican Indendence Day. In Labyrinth of Solitude, Paz describes the festival as an hour long of shouting echoeing the Grito Dolores when Hidalgo called out to the people of Mexico to revolt. In the local newspaper however, an American woman wrote that the best strategy for a traveller in Mexico is to drape yourself in as many Mexican Independence Day accessories as possible, but she says that it is still likely that you will be pelted with flour and eggs!

September 09, 2005

Poetry in a Welsh Dialect

Follow-up to Sierra Norte from The Midnight Heart

While re-reading The New Poetry as preparation for my teaching in the new year, I re-encountered Tom Leonard. The question raised its head, why haven't I thought more about writing poetry in a Welsh dialect or accent? The kind of Wenglish spoken in the Welsh valleys could be good material.

Sierra Norte

Follow-up to The Pachuco from The Midnight Heart

On Wednesday, we caught a bus heading out of Oaxaca to the Sierra Norte. It was cold and wet, but very beautiful. You have to have a guide up there, because the forests are fierce and you can easily lose your way. The community up there rent out cabins and offer their services as guides for some extra cash. The good thing is that tourism is not the dominant industry up there, so the locals were very friendly and happy to talk.

When I was in Mexico in 2004, I passed through the Sierra Madre stopping at a place called Creel. The locals were not very friendly and who could blame them. The tourists generally went up there to stare at the Tarahumara indigenous peoples. The only way to make money was through tourism. I think that this has happened in some parts of Wales to a lesser extent, but wherever it occurs I think it is to the detriment of the place.

I never take photographs of the indigenous peoples. I have seen tourists taking photographs of the indigenous people and they are very uncomfortable. In some ways, by doing this, tourists are taking away their pride. In order to take photographs of people in any situation, you need to build a relationship of trust as Gertrude Trudy Blom did in San Cristobal with the Mayans.

I generally make it a rule never to take photographs of people unless they ask me to.For example our guide in the Sierra Norte, Eustorgio Martinez, was keen to have his photo taken and I have promised to send him prints once they have been developed. They will then be able to use such photos in their promotional literature about the place and the guides thatthey offer. It's nice to give something back.

The Sierra Norte reminded me of a small town in Belize that we visited called Bermudian Landing. The town was a monkey sanctuary – howler monkeys to be precise. The townspeople ensured that the monkeys were not disturbed in a community run project. Nature lovers would then go to the town to wtach the monkeys in the wild and the community leaders farmed out the tourists fairly to stay with different members of the community. However, as in the Sierra Norte, this was not the total of Bermudian Landing's industry.


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The Midnight Heart

“Zona de plagas donde la dormida come / lentamente / su corazón de medianoche” – Alejandra Pizarnik

Night ramblings of insomnia, and day ramblings for the sleep deprived.

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